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Radioactive element found in fish far from Vermont nuclear plant

(Reuters) - Trace amounts of a radioactive element found in fish near the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant have now been found in bass in an opposite corner of the state, apparently clearing the plant of any tie to the contamination, a state health official said.

Initial testing took place after Entergy Corp.'s Vermont Yankee, located in the southeastern town of Vernon, reported in 2010 that radioactive material had leaked into nearby groundwater.

Low levels of Strontium-90, an isotope produced by nuclear reactions, were found in fish caught in August where groundwater from the plant runs into the Connecticut River, state authorities said.

Now, new tests of bass caught 150 miles away in northwestern Vermont and outside the area affected by the plant's groundwater show similar levels of Strontium-90, said William Irwin, chief of the Vermont Health Department's radiological division.

The likely source, rather than Vermont Yankee, is residue from above-ground nuclear testing in the 1940s and 1950s and the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Soviet Union in 1986, he said.

"These are very very tiny amounts of radioactivity," Irwin told Reuters on Tuesday. "They were very close to being non-detectable."

Despite state efforts to close Vermont Yankee, a federal judge has ruled that the 40-year-old plant can remain open because the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sole jurisdiction over radioactivity and health concerns.

(Reporting by Jason McLure; Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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